Friends Groups

Clark Memorial Library needs friends!

(Bear with us—this page is still in development.)

Volunteer library support groups fall into three broad categories:

Helping-hands donating time to operate a library, public or private, research or lending. There’s no formal organization. Apparently, for many decades Clark Memorial Library operated as a free public lending library on this basis. The Company and then the Town donated space and some materials; community-spirited book-lovers did the rest.

Friends of the Library non-profit corporations. These are legal entities registered with the State, filing state & federal reports for 501(c)3 tax-exempt corporations. They must have a governing board, a mission statement and by-laws, keep minutes of regular meetings, follow Roberts Rules. The advantage is they can have a separate bank account, solicit tax-exempt donations openly (instead of stashing them in a cigar box), set and collect dues from members, and enter into contractual agreements with other legal entities. Otherwise they’re the same as Helping-hands, with the organizational advantage that the librarian deals only with the board (except in-library assistants) and the board reports to and manages the activities of the membership. A big plus. You can have a lot more active volunteers doing fresh, creative things along-side the tried-and-true favorites. If a new program or event works, keep it. If no one came, oh well, we had fun. Back to the drawing board.

In practice, Friends groups function much the same as the former Clarkdale Library Advisory Board, except they are completely autonomous. Library staff does not have to attend their meetings, although the librarian is usually invited to say a few words about library news or tell the board of a difficulty or need that has already been hashed out with the Board President but needs a vote. Library staff does not keep their records. Library staff expedites only specific requests that require library approval and/or participation—such as use of the facility for a special event or ordering extra copies of a book for a book club meeting.

This is the generally favorite form. There are multiple configurations. The Friends of the Platt Library group with which we’re familiar had a 15-member board (stuffed with retired teachers and businessmen), some 35–40 active volunteer members, and some 400 dues-paying members. They were primarily focused on…

Fundraising through:

  • Membership Dues
  • Book Sales: in-library bookstore, bi-monthly Big Sales, and e-bay rare book offerings
  • Other events such as bake sales, crafts sales, etc.
  • Memorial book program, administered by the Friends in concert with the librarian
  • Occasional grant prospecting for something the librarian really wanted that Central Library wouldn’t fund and the Friends didn’t think they should.

Library awareness promotion through:

  • Annual Library Birthday galas (the Bookstore Manager got Platt Branch built practically single-handed—with a little help from Mayor Riordan)
  • Occasional holiday/seasonal events
  • Speaker, civics, & cultural programs like the L.A. Opera series
  • Community outreach programs, such as books for newborns, books for shut-ins

Volunteer appreciation and donor stroking through:

  • Friends-catered suppers at board members’ homes or the library meeting room
  • Field trips to Central Library and various museums and galleries

Library Endowment non-profit corporations. These also are legal entities registered with the State, filing state & federal reports for 501(c)3 tax-exempt corporations, and all the attendant non-profit requirements. However, their sole function is raising and investing enough cash to fund all or part of on-going library operations with the interest generated. They also provide funds for major capital expenditures. CML seems to need such independent support. But they require a board heavy in financial wizards.

More on this to come.

Resources for Friends Group organizers.

United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, has a Friends Group resource page at www.ala.org/united/friends. Of particular interest is an online toolkit for creating or revitalizing library Friends Groups. Click here to download the PDF.

We’ve culled a Form Your Arizona Nonprofit Corporation how-to from the NOLO website. Click here to download the PDF.

“Shout for libraries. Shout for the young readers who use them.”

Patrick Ness